HC Deb 18 April 1946 vol 421 cc2897-9
Mr. Boothby

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Food if he has any statement to make on the threat of the Scottish herring fishermen to tie up their vessels unless he agrees, by Saturday next, to higher prices for herring than he has proposed.

Sir B. Smith

At meetings held in Edinburgh in March the following proposals were put to the various associations concerned with the herring industry:

A reduction for the coming season in the maximum firsthand price of herring for the home market from 91s. to 88s. 8d. per cran: the fixing of a price of 70s. per cran for herring sold for quick freezing: and no change in the price of herring sold for pickle curing, which, during the past two seasons, has been 55s. per cran.

The reasons for proposing the small decrease in the price of herring for the home market were that it was necessary to increase from 9d. to 10½d. per stone levy made to cover transport costs and also to make a new levy of ¾d. per stone to meet the expenses of the Herring Industry Board. I understood that these proposals were in general accepted at the time by the associations concerned. On the 16th April: however, I received a telegram from representatives of the Scottish Herring Producers saying that unless I agreed by Saturday, 10th April, that there should be no reduction in the home market prices this summer and that the price of herring for curing should be advanced by 5s. per cran to 60s., they would decline to continue fishing and would recall all vessels at present engaged.

They have been invited to meet my officers forthwith to discuss the matter, but they have declined. In my opinion, having regard to the profits made last season by the herring producers, the prices I proposed to them are reasonable, and while I am perfectly prepared to discuss the matter with them, I do not think that I should allow a threat of this kind to influence my decision. I can hardly believe that at a time when all food is so badly needed the fishermen concerned will persist in their present attitude.

Mr. Boothby

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he realises that this ultimatum by the Scottish Herring Producers' Association, coupled with the threat to tie up the fleet at a time of acute world food shortage, is deplored and deprecated by Members of all parties? May I ask him to give an assurance that any fisherman who decides to ignore the edict of this association and who goes to sea will receive the full protection of His Majesty's Government?

Sir B. Smith

I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman, who is the Chairman of the All-Party Fishing Board in this House, for the firm stand which they have taken with their own constituents; and to give an affirmative answer to the last part et his question.

Mr. John Paton

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Herring Producers' Association actually represents the fishermen, or is it an association of middlemen? Can he give us some information about the composition of this body?

Sir B. Smith

They are not 100 per cent., if that is what the hon. Member means. Nevertheless, they are the representative body.

Mr. Scollan

I think that, on a serious matter of this kind, the House is entitled to know exactly who is responsible for holding up very necessary food at a time like this. It is not good enough to say that the Association represents 50 per cent. Who are they, and whom do they represent? Whom are you dealing with? That is what we want to know.

Sir B. Smith

They are the various herring associations in Scotland. I cannot give the titles of them offhand, but I will be willing to circulate them.

Mr. Edward Evans

Will the Minister say whether East Anglian producers are concerned in this?

Sir B. Smith

These people will fish off East Anglia as the season goes on, but, at the moment, this is confined to Scotland.

Mr. Hector Huģhes

Can the Minister say whether the people who are threatening the Minister in this way are masters o, men—owners or fishermen?

Sir B. Smith

There are all parties concerned.